IATF to discuss if travel ban still ‘practical’ amid Omicron variant threat

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 13) — The Inter-Agency Task Force will discuss if the government will still implement a travel ban noting that the Omicron variant has already spread in many countries, said Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Thursday.

“This will be the subject of our IATF discussion this afternoon. Precisely because based on the recent rounds of our genomic sequencing, we already see more and more of Omicron cases. And also, there are more than 150 countries now, I believe, that have been affected by the Omicron variant,” Duque told CNN Philippines’ The Source.

“So we will see if it is still practical to implement our travel ban. As a matter of policy this will have to be resolved by the IATF en banc.”

The Department of Health earlier said that the Omicron variant has replaced Delta as the dominant coronavirus variant in the latest genome sequencing. There are currently 43 Omicron cases detected in the country.

World Health Organization country representative Rabindra Abeyasinghe said on Wednesday that it is difficult to conclusively determine if Omicron is already the dominant variant since the country is sequencing too few samples. But it is expected to displace Delta as the predominant variant as it has done in several other countries, he added.

The national government has placed Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, and Spain on the red list from Jan 1 to 15. Travelers from these countries are barred from entering the Philippines.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong has banned flights from the Philippines, Australia, Canada, France, India, Pakistan, United Kingdom, and the United States, from Jan. 8 to 21.

The WHO earlier said that stricter travel measures will only help nations “buy time” to prepare for new surges amid the threat of Omicron variant.

The Philippines on Wednesday broke another COVID-19 record with 208,164 active cases. The country’s daily cases hit all-time on Monday with 33,169 new infections.